SIR WINSTON Churchill has died. That voice of courage and counsel and dauntless determination is stilled. This news will bring a sense of loss to millions, for Sir Winston was not merely admired, he was loved. No other political leader of our day came so close to the hearts of the people. The nation, which trusted him and was upheld by his indomitable spirit in days of extreme peril, delighted in his manifest humanity and in his robust humour.
There were times when that humour seemed the most powerful weapon in his whole armoury; for it reduced the strident and strutting dictators to their proper proportions. Who can forget his description of “the whipped jackal Mussolini...frisking up by the side of the German tiger, with yelps not only of appetite – that could be understood – but even of triumph”? His quips and vivid, biting phrases were repeated with relish wherever men gathered for days afterwards. Others had exhorted us to show a cheerful resolution: he made us feel cheerful and exhortation became unnecessary.
In the history of our land, it will always be remembered how he spoke to the nation in its darkest hours. Vivid in our minds is the picture of the fiery smoke curtain rising over Dunkirk, and against it the figure of Sir Winston declaring: “We shall fight on.” Through that sombre summer of 1940 he was the pillar of resistance in our midst.
Across the Channel the Germans were massing their strength; but before summer went out the Battle of Britain had been fought and won. The defiant energy kindled through the nation by Sir Winston’s summons had won its first victory: an incredulous world had seen Hitler’s first defeat.
As the war widened, Sir Winston’s stature grew. How much we owe to him for that instant declaration on the night after Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union, hailing the Russians as our Allies! How much we owe to his friendship with Mr Roosevelt which gained for us the President’s unstinted co-operation and played an indispensable part in drawing Britain and the United States into a fighting partnership with no count of cost! How much we owe to him as the one man capable of inspiring a national unity that no shocks or strains could break!
He had been schooled in adversity and had survived rebuffs and disappointments (such as the failure of the Dardanelles expedition in the First World War) that would have crushed the spirit of a lesser man. Thus when the supreme test came he was equal to it. As his old political opponent, James Maxton, said when he took office, it was written in the Book of Fate that he should lead Britain at that moment. Blow after devastating blow fell during the early months of his Premiership, yet he remained undismayed. France collapsed. Italy entered the war, London was subjected to a cruel ordeal of sustained bombardment, disaster succeeded disaster in the Far East, Tobruk fell, Egypt and the Canal seemed within Hitler’s grasp. Through it all Sir Winston marched breast forward, looking at events with a searching and steady eye.
From the first he took the nation into his confidence and described in incomparably graphic language every turn in the fateful campaign that was being fought out on land and sea and in the air. He shirked nothing. Ordinary men and women felt, as they listed to the Prime Minister’s broadcasts, that they were being invited into the Cabinet Room.
Repeatedly in times of crisis Britain has been blessed with great leaders, pilots who could weather the storm; but never has she faced such appalling dangers as she faced in 1940 and 1941, and never in all her long history has she found such leadership.
If all the great figures of our past were with us today, they would join with us in acclaiming Winston Churchill Britain’s greatest war leader, one whose memory will never fade and whose name will remain for all time an inspiration wherever English is spoken.
We have written of him here as history will remember him, pre-eminently for his achievement in the war years. But he was also a man of peace. The Government which he led from 1951 restored prosperity to the country and notably increased its reputation abroad. And Sir Winston, anxious to reduce the risks of a third world conflict, made continuous efforts to promote international understanding and establish a lasting peace settlement. Such a settlement he described as “the last prize I seek to win”.
Today the prize of a settled peace still eludes us. We are conscious that perils and stresses lie ahead. But we have his example and his faith to guide us – his faith in freedom, in the mercy and goodness of God, and in the sound sense and steadfastness of the British people. “England yet shall stand.”
So much for the great man of State and of history. He was a family man too. Lady Churchill today will know that we share her sorrow. We presume to share also her pride.